By: Josh Pearson
Winter, for me, is the best time of year to be a beer lover. It is the season of “Big beers.” This term doesn’t refer to any particular style of beer. It is not a technical term. “Big beer” is more a term of endearment, an inclusive term that encompasses the darker end of the beer spectrum, such as stouts and porters, but is also the home of some double and triple IPAs as well as barley wine. “Big beer” refers to beers with high alcohol and most likely a higher price tag, though those may be their least important characteristics.
“Big beers” are not your typical after work or weekend beer. They are not the type of beer you will find in a 30-pack. They take more dedication and time to brew than their more common counterparts and are sometimes aged in oak or bourbon barrels for up to a year or more. They are the kind of beer you share with a friend that you don’t see enough or something you crack open to celebrate an anniversary or promotion. The type of beer that provokes an audible response something along the lines of “Oooohh, that’s really good” or the simple but classic “Mmmm.” They are special occasion beers.
Sometimes that occasion is just the act of acquiring the beer, as some “big beers” are difficult to come by. Brewed in small batches and shipped in limited quantities, your local liquor store might only see a few cases, and in an attempt to “share the wealth” may limit one bottle or (if you’re lucky) a six-pack per customer. The more serious beer enthusiasts will wait out in the cold and rain to get their hands on a bottle, or the more determined ones will figure out the delivery routes and follow the trucks from store to store buying up the maximum amount allowed. For some, at least, it seems it is more about the experience and the story than the actual liquid inside the bottle.
Arguably, “Big Beer” season begins with the black Friday release of Goose Island’s Bourbon County, a bourbon barrel aged stout clocking in at around 12-14% alcohol, and ends somewhere around early April with the annual release of Founders KBS, another barrel aged stout brewed with chocolate and coffee. During the months in between you will find some wonderful offerings like Wisconsin’s own Central Waters barrel aged stout and scotch ales as well as Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Barley Wine. For the hop lovers, Bell’s Double IPA “Hopslam” is a great way to celebrate the beginning of the New Year.
No matter your preference, like most things worth appreciating in life “big” good beers are fleeting. An open beer left unattended will quickly become undrinkable and a sealed beer in your fridge will only last so long. Beer is a reminder to enjoy life, and share it with the people you love. It is about seizing opportunities and living in the present…savoring every moment and every sip.